Aimed at users without access to fixed line cable or ADSL Internet services, Telstra's BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway is a 3G modem/router that provides wireless access to Telstra's Next G network. The BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway works well, but neither it nor Telstra's wireless broadband plans come cheap.
Manufactured by NetComm, the Telstra BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway (3G21WB) is a much nicer looking device than the previous model. Gone are the protruding antennas and the flat, box-shaped design. The new Elite Wireless Network Gateway is sleek, slim and sits upright thanks to a small silver stand. This means its ideal for those with limited desk space. The modem feels a little flimsy; the plastic creaks when pressed and the rear cover awkwardly clips in and out of place.
The front of the Telstra BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway features 12 blue LEDs. They let you see signal strength, 3G, LAN activity, Internet connection and Wi-Fi status, and power at a glance.
The Telstra BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway includes four 10/100Mbps Ethernet ports, two USB ports, a SIM card slot and an optional antenna connector for wireless reception. The USB ports allow printers or hard drives to be shared over a network, while the four Ethernet ports can connect directly to a PC or other network-capable device. The USB ports are conveniently located on the side of the device, so there's no need to remove the rear cover.
Setting up the Telstra BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway is relatively straightforward. The package comes with a USB key that you plug into your PC or Mac to install the connection client software. The modem router comes pre-programmed with an SSID (wireless network name) and a WPA key (wireless security key). You'll need to use these defaults to set up the network initially, but you can change them using either the software or the Web-based interface. You'll also need to enter your BigPond account details. The device must be paired with a new or existing BigPond broadband account and will not work with prepaid accounts, nor will it accept regular Telstra mobile phone SIM cards (even if they have a data allowance).
We installed the connection software on both a PC and a Mac and were up and running in a matter of minutes. The BigPond Elite is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS X operating systems. For wireless use, the Telstra BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway only requires the included AC adapter to function. The unit supports the latest 802.11n Wi-Fi standard as well as 802.11b/g.
The Telstra BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway can deliver a theoretical maximum throughput of 21Mbps for downloading and 5.8Mbps per second for uploading when connected to the Next G network. These theoretical speeds are normally only available using Telstra's Turbo 21 modem; Telstra's other USB modems and similar devices from the likes of Optus, Vodafone and 3 are generally capable of 7.2Mbps downloads. It's important to note that these speeds will rarely be seen during normal use — Telstra claims an average speed of 8Mbps for downloads. The speeds will also depend on a number of external factors including your location and hardware.
We performed the majority of our testing with the device at our North Sydney offices, using both a PC and a Mac. The BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway maintained a full HSPA+ connection and performed reliably. We achieved average download speeds of 3Mbps and upload speeds of 1.5Mbps when connected over b/g Wi-Fi, and speeds of 4.1Mbps (downloads) and 2.3Mbps (uploads) when connected over Ethernet. The BigPond Elite Wireless Network Gateway took 7min 49sec to download the 85.8MB iTunes installation package over Wi-Fi and 3min 41sec over an Ethernet connection.
Telstra sells the BigPond Elite Network Gateway for $399 outright. Selected Telstra customers may be entitled to a $200 rebate, in addition to a discount on Telstra access fees for the first 12 months of a 24-month contract plan. There are five plans available, with monthly combined download and upload limits of 400MB ($29.95), 1GB ($39.95), 3GB ($49.95), 6GB ($79.95) and 10GB ($119.95). There are no charges for exceeding monthly quotas, though Telstra will throttle speeds to 64Kbps once the limit is reached.
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